QB job worth the wait for Tim Brasic

Illinois´ quarterback Tim Brasic (15) warms up before the game on Saturday, September 10, 2005 at Memorial Stadium. Illinois defeated San Jose State, 40-19. Josh Birnbaum

Illinois´ quarterback Tim Brasic (15) warms up before the game on Saturday, September 10, 2005 at Memorial Stadium. Illinois defeated San Jose State, 40-19. Josh Birnbaum

By Derek Barichello

Four years ago, Tim Brasic was weighing his choices for college. He’d narrowed the list to two schools, but was torn. Northern Illinois and Minnesota were both calling his name, and the quarterback did not know which path to pick.

But four weeks before the signing day, a phone call from Dan O’Dell, then the quarterbacks coach at Illinois, changed all that. And four years after choosing to bypass scholarship offers at NIU and Minnesota to chance walking on at Illinois, the Riverside-Brookfield standout is leading a program that could have been custom-built for him.

Brasic, a junior on the field and senior in the classroom, has become the cornerstone of Illinois’ revolutionized offense. He took a chance by picking the Illini and former head coach Ron Turner’s West Coast offense, which didn’t fit Brasic’s style or strengths. But now the quarterback is back in his comfort zone and is flourishing there.

“We felt like, from the spring on, he took care of the ball,” Illini head coach Ron Zook said. “He didn’t turn the ball over, he got us in and out of the plays, he was the most consistent.”

Brasic’s athleticism and flexibility at the position earned him the starting role. In high school, he ran the Bulldogs’ five-receiver offense for three seasons. Under Hall of Fame coach Otto Zeman, Brasic set an IHSA record for single-game passing yardage – 589 against Joliet Catholic in 2001 – and was named the Sun-Times and News-Gazette Player of the Year that season.

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“Our offense was real fast,” Brasic said. “We were always keeping the defense on their heels. The thing I learned the most was just getting rid of the ball fast. People would bring all-out blitzes, and I didn’t have a running back there to block, so I would just grab it and throw it.”

His athleticism reached beyond the gridiron. Brasic was an All-Conference basketball and track athlete, earning nine varsity letters throughout high school. RB went 22-5 and earned the regional championship as a high school senior.

Brasic’s passing game improved under Zeman, as he became more comfortable in the running back-free offense. He said the higher rate of interceptions that came with a higher number of passes taught him to rebound quickly after mistakes.

“Looking back, like what happened with Rutgers, coming out of that first half I actually thought about (Zeman) and everything he taught me, and I just came out for the second half and said ‘I’m going to forget about it, play like it never happened,’ and just play like it’s a new half,” Brasic said. “And that’s what we did.”

The support of his Illinois teammates also makes life easier on the first-year starter. Brasic said the Illini’s quarterbacks have always gotten along well, going golfing in the summer and rooming together on road trips.

“It’s funny because you’re all competing for the same job, but in a sense you’re with each other so much you might as well be friends, because if you don’t, it’s going to be so awkward,” Brasic said.

That friendship helped ease the hardship of Brasic’s three seasons on the Illini bench. After redshirting his freshman year, Brasic saw action in only two games his first year playing before suffering a bad groin strain that put him back on the sidelines. He said he struggled to recover from there.

“There were times when I would talk to my parents, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore, I want to transfer,’ they just told me to stick with it, see how the year goes,” Brasic said. “Obviously with everything that was going on, we didn’t know what the coaching situation was going to be, so we were going to see.”

When Zook took over the reins at Illinois, Brasic fell into his ideal situation. He’d chosen Illinois for it’s location and the Big Ten conference, but had sent letters to Florida when Zook was coaching there.

“When the new coaches came in, it was just real exciting because I knew everybody was going to get an opportunity. It was a fresh start,” Brasic said. “A lot of people don’t get that, they go to a school and there’s coaches that have been there forever. The fact that coach Zook was coming in was really an opportunity for me.”

He’s made the most of that opportunity. While Brasic has shown the growing pains typical of a quarterback getting his first real playing experience, he’s worked hard in the weight room and studied playbooks so his game is as good as possible on the field. He’s also been able to combine the knowledge each coaching staff has implicated, and made the most of his experience.

“I think his confidence has improved,” fellow junior quarterback Chris Pazan said. “He’s improved a lot with his strength. Then just his knowledge of the game has improved, a lot from the old coaching staff and a lot from the new coaching staff.”

Zook said that while Illinois has struggled, he’s happy to know his quarterback continues to bring intensity every time he steps on the field.

“The more you do something you’re going to get better at it, and he’s gotten better just because he’s a competitor, he wants to win,” Zook said. “He’s going to try to find a way to win, and you need to have that in guys.”